On Love and Friendship

heartsLately I’ve been having these epiphanies.

Well, maybe not epiphanies. Maybe it’s just remembering things I already knew. Maybe it’s because I have some time to myself while not training alllll the time.

Maybe it’s because in the three years since I picked up and moved  away from home and family and friends, I’ve been forced to think about, really think about, what it means to truly care for someone.

Yes, I’m talking about love.

Not just romantic love, though that is something I think about often, too. Philia. Love for your friends.

Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics describes Philia as “affectionate regard” or “friendship,” which is a simple translation. In his Rhetoric, the definition goes deeper:

“wanting for someone what one thinks good, for his sake and not for one’s own, and being inclined, so far as one can, to do such things for him.”

Aristotle speaks of love as something selfless. Loving someone puts them first. Puts their needs and feelings and experiences first. Loving someone asks that one gives of herself and doesn’t demand for the same in return. Loving someone is giving yourself fully and trusting that love to nourish and enrich both souls.

It isn’t something that should be felt lightly, though too frequently, it is.

Hearing “I love you” from a friend should be something you cherish. It’s a tiny gift that you can carry with you, a light for your heart, a constant reminder that someone, somewhere, has your back. Cares about the state of your heart. Wants to protect it for you. Wants to guard you from hurt and suffering.Will do nearly anything for you to lift you up. To stand beside you and hold your hand when you’re frightened. To celebrate and laugh and cry with you. To remind you of your boundaries and to call you on your shit and to respect your limits. Love should be fearless in this way. It can be fearless because both souls know the other deeply and well. That fearlessness is born out of mutual trust and respect.

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.” – Jane Austen

To truly love a someone is to give yourself to it wholly. To put your friend before yourself. To take ownership in that relationship and to recognize that your words and actions always have an effect. What you do and say carry weight. Think about your dialogue. Be respectful of your friend’s truth.

Maintaining the old, far-away friendships takes work and I’m fortunate to have bonds with people that can withstand years and miles. Forging new relationships, though, has taught me how to value people and their stories in a way I’d never considered before.

For a long time, friendship was easy for me. School was a social situation I was comfortable with. My peers and I had plenty in common and those experiences brought us together. Moving halfway across the country to a city where I knew nearly no one changed the landscape altogether. I struggled, for a long time, to connect with people here and that was not something that I was comfortable with, or comfortable admitting. It was lonely and I let myself live inside that loneliness for a long time.

“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your hear. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.” – Louise Erdrich

It took a while to find a way out of that lonely place – it was unfamiliar and I didn’t like it, but it had a way of keeping me there – but when I did, I found what I had been missing. New friendships, found almost by accident, but since nourished by a depth of mutual respect and care that I am overwhelmed by the affection that I have for them.

They give me more than I realized I wanted and fill my heart to overflowing. They teach me what it means to be brave and strong and genuine and kind. They are beautiful souls who have come through fire to light one in me. I didn’t realize how much I needed them until I found them and now? Now I gladly give of myself to repay that respect and generosity of spirit.

“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” – Anais Nin

Friendship, much like romantic love, is not without risk and it can hurt, deeply, when those bonds of love are disrespected or broken. But what is living without taking a risk? You will be forever changed by that person and what they can teach you.

“Hearts are breakable and I think even when you heal, you’re never what you were before.” – Cassandra Clare

You have the choice. Let others in, let them teach you and put them before yourself, or live in that dark place, alone, with nothing to keep you company but selfish pity. Let yourself be changed by the good in others and the love that you feel will be genuine. That is true friendship. And it is beautiful.